Calibration Activities Study ~ Which Activites Are Worth The Time Investment, Which Are Not

I had my feelings about which Calibration Activities are not worth the time investment and which ones are and now I know.  This study just confirmed that it does matter how Calibration Sessions are conducted and what additional activities should be included to ensure:

  • Management, coach, trainer and senior leader alignment when assessing customer interactions
  • Delivering coaching consistently while creating a positive feedback environment
  • Continually developing and honing coaching skills
  • Continuously improving The Customer Experience through service delivery

Read this just released study by downloading it from Radclyffe Partners, LLC website at no charge and let me know what you think and what experience you have had. I especially would like to hear which activities have worked for you and how specifically they have positively impacted your contact center results.

Calibration Activites Study ~ Which Activiti

es Are Worth The Time Investment, Which Are Not

Getting to Wow! Making the Most of Your Calibration Sessions

As I stated in my last post, Traditional Monitoring and Coaching just doesn’t work.  I talked in that post about how to revitalize coaching by creating a more rewarding coaching experience for the rep that involves actually partnering with reps by asking strategic questions skillfully to enable the rep to have an “Ah! Ha!” moment when listening to recorded interactions.  Coaching can be a fun and invigorating activity and I have achieved it, so I know first hand that it can be done.

Now that I got that part off my chest (because personally I have despised the traditional coaching process for so long), I need to talk about what I call the  “Traditional Calibration” process that is used in many contact centers today.  Before I go into it, though, I first want to applaud those contact center leaders who are actually conducting Calibration with the management and coaching team.  It does take time and attention to ensure this happens and I know that many have let this fall by the wayside due to competing priorities.

Traditional Calibration

Almost all of the calibration sessions I have experienced are generally conducted the same way.  Managers, coaches, team leaders and perhaps trainers sit in a room or remotely, a blank monitoring form in front of them.  A recorded interaction is played and everyone furiously takes notes and checks off the boxes, “yes” “no”….Sounds familiar, huh?

After the recording stops everyone takes a few minutes to finish up their notes and then, going behavior by behavior and leader by leader, the question is asked, “Was this behavior performed?”  There is often disagreement as to whether the behavior was, indeed performed (even if it’s obvious to me that is was or was not based on the definition of the behavior and the examples developed for training purposes. Wait! The behavior was defined and examples were developed, right?!!!) Never mind, I don’t want to digress.

In Traditional Calibration sessions the focus is clearly on gaining alignment on the leadership team’s agreement.  Once the team has exhausted the discussion, another call may or may not be played and the process begins again. So now I am going to ask this very important question, “Is this making a difference in the overall performance improvement of the representatives and the call quality?”  I didn’t think so.

So how can we fix the Calibration Process to match the Discovery™ Coaching Process I discussed in the last post?  First, we have to take a look at the objective of Calibration.  What is the point?  I believe there should be several:

  • Gaining alignment among the management/coaching/training team so the interactions are assessed consistently (and reps are coached consistently)
  • Ensuring the management/coaching/training team is focusing on the customer experience as a whole, not on the just “standards”
  • Creating an environment of openness to learning and growing
  • Continually developing the coaching skills of management/coaching/training team members
  • Ensuring there is a “next step” in the form of a coaching opportunity after the Calibration session is over

Keeping in mind these objectives, and I believe they are honorable ones, let’s take a look at how that plays out in a reformed Calibration Process.

Discovery™ Calibration

In the Discovery™ Calibration Process there will be at least two recorded interactions played.  There will be a Monitoring Form (btw, I hate “monitoring” and prefer it called an Observation Form) in front of each participating member of the management/coaching team.  I truly hope contact center management, coaches and trainers are participating.

After each call is played and the notes have been captured, everyone turns over their Observation Form.  The Discovery™ facilitator asks the question, “As a result of this interaction, how was the experience for the customer?  Did the customer walk away feeling “wowed” compared to other companies they call?  If the answer is “yes,” the next question is “why, what behavior/skill was used to ensure that experience?”  If the answer is “no,” the next question is, “why not?, what skill/behavior was missing or inadequate?”  Then the discussion starts among the participants in the session.  These questions focus the team on what is really important…the customer’s experience and perception.  The challenge here is to get the team to come to consensus on the most critical behavior or skill that occurred…or didn’t… that affected the customer’s experience.  Once that is identified, the team can work to role-play using Discovery™ questioning to get the rep to experience the “Ah! Ha!” when she is coached on this interaction later in a one-on-one coaching session.

This process ensures that all of the key objectives are met, including continuous improvement of the coaches’ coaching skills.

The Payoff

Combining the Discovery™ Coaching and Calibration Processes will ensure a more robust coaching experience for both the representatives AND the coaches.  As we know, coaching can be a thankless job and many coaches find a million excuses not to coach.  86% of representatives we have surveyed find their current coaching/call quality process a negative experience.  91% of the coaches we surveyed do not enjoy their current coaching process and find it gets little to no results.  Finally, 92% of the contact center leaders surveyed have not seen quantifiable CSAT or Monitoring improvements from their current coaching program.

Designing and implementing a Discovery™ Coaching and Calibration Program has netted our clients measurable results both from a call interaction perspective and a cultural perspective.  Do it now…I can’t see the point in waiting, can you?

Why Monitoring & Coaching Is Not Working in Most Contact Centers

It’s true. The way we were taught to monitor and coach is just not that effective. First, who has time to coach effectively? Second, ask the reps how they feel about their coaching program, and third, look at your results; the analytics. Are you really seeing quantitative and qualitative improvements?

My entire career has been focused on, and I am clearly passionate about, two things:

  1. ensuring customers get a World Class Service experience during every single interaction
  2. that representatives are respected, valued, invested in and coached and are continually intellectually challenged so that they achieve their highest level of performance and feel proud about their contribution to world as service professionals.

How our Monitoring and Coaching Programs are designed and administered has a direct impact on those two items listed above.

Traditional Monitoring and Coaching

The most common way monitoring and coaching programs are administered today focuses on a coach listening to recorded interactions, completing a “Monitoring Form” and scoring the interaction. Most of the behaviors on the form are measured by a “yes” or “no”. In other words, either it happened or it didn’t during the interaction.

In many organizations, the representative has a “coaching session” with the coach who then plays the recorded interaction and then reviews the completed monitoring form with the representative. The conversation usually sounds something like this: “So, Jane, we just listened to your call with John Smith. Let’s go through and look at the Monitoring Form and see what we have…. Ok, you received a score of 70%, which is ok, and mostly because you did not ask permission to put the caller on hold and you didn’t thank the caller for holding when you came back on the line. Oh, and you didn’t recap and thank the caller for calling at then end of the interaction. But on the other hand, you did probe effectively and you did have a nice vocal tone and quality.”

Doesn’t sound that bad, right?

Let’s take a look at this “coaching session” more closely though. In this case, the representative received a score that wasn’t stellar. Think about it…if you received a performance appraisal that rated you a score of 70% out of 100%, would you feel good about that? That’s a C-.

Now let’s think about it from the representative’s perspective. She is probably thinking, “Ok, so because I didn’t ask permission to put the caller on hold, didn’t thank them for holding, didn’t recap and didn’t thank them for calling, my call is almost failing? I mean, the customer sounded really happy and even glowed about how helpful I was and I addressed the issue and resolved it!”

What’s wrong with this picture and what happens next? Clearly the representative is not happy with the “score.” What she realizes is that even though all those behaviors required during the interaction weren’t performed, it didn’t really make a difference to the customer. So she is not feeling good about this “coaching” session and probably won’t change how she performs her job. The more she thinks about it, the more disenchanted she becomes.  In fact, she is beginning to think this is pretty stupid and nit-picky. She knows that the next time she gets called into a coaching session, she will be more prepared to defend her call handling and the fact that most of the behaviors expected on the form are not even necessary.

Now let’s look about it from the coach’s perspective.  The coach begins to get that sinking feeling that Jane isn’t that happy and doesn’t agree with her assessment.  Well, Jane is going to have to get over it, she thinks, because this is the standard and all of the behaviors are required.  We all can pretty much guess how it’s going to go from this point on.

So this is how Traditional Quality/Coaching/Monitoring Programs become unsuccessful and even foster a negative culture.

Discovery Coaching and Calibration

Having discovered how common this dilemma is in contact center organizations, I made it my mission to design and implement a coaching program that would foster openness to feedback, representative engagement, performance improvement and would result in improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.  I knew when customers walked away from an interaction with a service provider being “wowed” by the experience it would be the true measure of success! And I also knew that when representatives embrace their coaching and are excited about the experience, I would have achieved my goal.  I am delighted to report that it has happened and I have found “the way” and it’s through what I call, Discovery Coaching and Calibration™ (in addition to Advanced Strategic Interaction Skills™ for representatives).

Discovery Coaching and CalibrationProgram Elements

If you truly want to change the “Monitoring Culture” and realize significant improvements in employee engagement and morale, call interaction handling and customer engagement and loyalty, the following elements are critical:

  • Coaches who are trained and highly skilled in the art of Discovery Coaching™ which involves excellent strategic questioning skills and outstanding people partnering skills
  • A common language and questioning strategy that focuses on the interaction outcome
  • Appropriate time allocation for both representatives and coaches to listen to recorded interactions together
  • A Monitoring Form (I call it an Observation Form) that reflects behaviors the will elicit a specific response/feeling from the customer
  • A highly skilled coaching and calibration facilitator and process owner that can serve to develop coaches and ensure program continuity and adherence
  • Ongoing and regular facilitated calibration sessions for the management team that includes coaching the coaches
  • A scoring schema that is driven based on interaction outcome, not individual behaviors

Do It Now…It’s Really Worth It!

While this all may seem complicated, it really isn’t.  I have implemented this quite successfully in many organizations.  In one organization, within two weeks of using this program the Contact Center Director received a number of emails from representatives to tell her how good they felt about the new way of getting coached and how they were committed improving!  This was after years of no measurable improvement and a lot of representative resistance. It nearly brought me to tears. Told you I was passionate about this!

Elizabeth A. Ahearn is CEO of Radclyffe Partners, LLC, a professional services firm dedicated to helping clients deliver World Class Service to their customers.  Radclyffe designs and develops proven, yet customized training, coaching and consulting solutions and is an outsourcing partner for call monitoring, coaching, calibration and training design, development and delivery.  973-291-8947

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Cracking the Code on Employee Engagement: Finally, Something That Works!

For those of you who lead contact center organizations, you know how challenging it is to keep front-line staff engaged and motivated.  Especially for those new to corporate America who are already looking to advance before they even start in their jobs.  And then there are those I like to call “veterans” or have been in their jobs for 15+ years and have lost their motivation and enthusiasm and don’t even know it.  So the question is, “how do I get my staff, both old and new, to become engaged and stay engaged as a front-line service professional?”

I believe we have found the answer and have had success in a number of contact center organizations creating a methodical, effective process for ensuring that both new and old front-line associates:

  • Engage in and drive their own ongoing performance development
  • Obtain a realistic perception of their own performance
  • Understand and are clear about the different performance levels for each competency within their job
  • Realize what it takes to get to the next level of performance within their role
  • Gain a clear perspective about when they are ready for a promotion to the next level
  • Learn how to objectively assess their own performance and provide specific evidence that supports that assessment
  • Perform at a higher level than the current minimum; being more proactive by suggesting recommendations, rather than waiting to be told what to do or asking what to do

One of the greatest joys in my career was sitting in on an assessment session after this new process was trained and implememnted in which a front-line “veteran” had the “Ah! Ha!” moment that she had been underperforming for quite some time.  I actually got choked up when she had this revelation — not for her, but because it was so rewarding to have the process work the way it was supposed to.

Here are the guiding principles for this process:

  • Each competency for each role needs to be defined and each performance level needs to be crystal clear – meaning – what actions are associated with this level of performance
  • The staff needs to be involved in creating these definitions and performance levels – carefully and skillfully facilitating this is key
  • There needs to be some flexibility or choices in which competencies the front-line indivdiuals select on which to focus – personal development needs to be customized
  • Each role needs to have this completed all the way up to director level to create a clear career-path for professional development
  • The staff needs to drive their own development process from the inception – this is not management forcing performance development and continuous improvement
  • There needs to be a What’s In It For Them that is clearly stated and well thought out

The feedback from the leaders in the organizations in which we implemented this said this:

  • Usually Performance Appraisal time is a nightmare – the process made it a piece of cake.  All of the data was there for the entire year!
  • NO MORE DEFENSIVE BEHAVIOR!!!! I didn’t have to say a word since each individual “got it” on their own.  If they didn’t have the evidence to support their own rating, they changed it on their own.  What a pleasure having such personal accountability.
  • Even the most reluctant individuals have shown such progress and openness to feedback and growth.  What a difference!
  • What was surprising was the growth in terms of team behaviors and being responsible to each other for achieving their growth goals.
  • We had people who were coming to work everyday, but not really here.  No longer.  Everyone is engaged and contributing!

It’s rewarding to see that 20 years of work and 10 years in development, this system actually works as intended.  No “program of the month.”  No “gimmicks.”  No “fads.”  It just makes sense and it works.  It really, really works! (Sorry, I had a moment of channeling Sally Field!)

Sacrificing Quality and Service in Economic Crisis

When I finally purchased my “dream” home I decided to invest in furniture that had history and a reputation of being passed down from generation to generation because of its high quality design and lasting style.  Stickley and Nichols & Stone furniture was what I selected to grace my home and ultimately pass down to my nieces and nephew.  When I made the decision to invest “big” I went to a store in my area renowned for also delivering quality…a quality experience one would expect from a retail establishment that sells high-end furniture.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The store has been in business for over 80 years and has built a phenomenal reputation for delivering outstanding, personalized customer service.  Bograd’s Furniture, located in Riverdale, NJ, has provided customers with all of the attributes we expect when making important purchases in our lives.  Unfortunately, this economy which has been deteriorating over the last several years has forced customers to sacrifice quality products and an outstanding customer experience for cheaper goods and less than stellar service.

Over the years, I came to know the owner and his family as a legend in the New Jersey area.  I would often see Joe Bograd and his wife Marcia at my favorite restaurant in Riverdale, Rosemary & Sage, another high-end World Class Experience provider. He took the business over from his father after playing in the original store as a child.  He worked there after graduating college and carried on his father’s legacy as has his son.

As a service leader and considered “expert” in the customer engagement industry  I was hard to impress, yet Joe and his team never failed to make me feel valued and as if I was smart for doing business with them.  That is why yesterday, I literally sat and cried as I read a letter from Joe to all of his valued customers. I have posted here a portion of his letter below, to demonstrate something very important to all of us in the service industry — this man was unwilling to compromise outstanding service delivery and product quality that his family has worked so hard to deliver over the last 81 years.

“We started in 1930, in the depth of the Depression, survived World War II and other wars.  We lived successfully through the economic crises of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and the bust at the beginning of this century.  But nothing compares to what we have seen over the past several years….”  “We realized that if we were to survive, we would fundamentally have to change what Bograd’s is.  We were unwilling to do this and compromise our standards and service.  After 81 years in business, we have made the difficult decision to sell our building and close our store.  Bograd’s has always been a quality business and we will close as a quality business.”

Now THAT is what we have often called in our industry “The Service Gene.”  For Joe, this is part of his Belief System…not just words, not propaganda, not hype.  This man walks the talk and I have seen it first hand over the last decade.

What can we as business leaders learn from him?  Reputation in business is all we have.  Once it is destroyed through poor quality products and unacceptable service experiences, it is difficult to recover.  History has demonstrated that our economy will eventually recover and with that, customers will again demand BOTH quality products and an outstanding service experience.  I believe that just because the economy is suffering, we can still deliver a great customer experience.  Even in making this difficult decision, Joe Bograd still made me feel as if I am a valued customer.

People will not always remember what you said, they often won’t even remember what you did…What they will remember is how you made them feel…Unknown

To read the letter in its entirety, please click the link below:

Want to talk to Liz Ahearn?  Just email her at or call her at 973-291-8947